Maputo — So far, according to United Nations figures, cited in Thursday’s issue of the independent newssheet “Mediafax”, 3,361 people have escaped from the town of Palma, in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, which was attacked by islamist terrorists on 24 March.
This figures includes those who fled west to the towns of Nangade and Mueda, and those who made their way southwards to the provincial capital, Pemba, and to the second major urban centre in the province, Montepuez.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) about three quarters of these survivors are women and children. Some people made it to Pemba by boat, some were rescued by helicopter, and some walked to Nangade.
The United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), operated by the World Food Programme (WFP), says it evacuated over 280 of the most vulnerable people from Palma.
But the true figure of survivors of last week attack is bound to be considerably higher than 3,361. That figure does not include those who fled northwards, to the Tanzanian border, and those who are still in the Palma bush.
The people fleeing from Palma add to the grim number of 670,000 people who had been displaced from their homes by the islamist raids elsewhere in Cabo Delgado by the end of 2020. These people sought safety in Pemba, and other parts of Cabo Delgado untouched by the conflict, or fled into neighbouring provinces, particularly Nampula.
The government has established a transit area in the Pemba Sports Complex to accommodate people arriving from Palma. Officials say priority is being given to those who have no relatives or friends in Palma, with whom they can find shelter.
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WFP is providing emergency food aid, while UNICEF and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) are assisting in identifying and caring for vulnerable groups. The NGO Save the Children has sent specialists in child protection and in water and sanitation to Pemba port and airport to support new arrivals.
Some of the international media have been carrying wild figures for the population of the town, putting it at 50,000, or even 75,000. But, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE), the population of Palma town, based on the 2017 population census, is 27,586.
Meanwhile, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussi Faki Mahamat, has called for “urgent and coordinated regional and international action” in response to “the threat to common security” posed by the terrorist raids in Cabo Delgado.
In a Wednesday press release, he expressed “extreme concern at the presence of international terrorist groups operating in southern Africa”.
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